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Seven Memphians under the age of 25 will soon help decide how the federal government spends $3.7 million.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently awarded that chunk of cash to the Community Alliance for the Homeless, with the understanding that a board of young adults would get major input into how it is spent.

“It’s really designed to be youth-led,” said Hannah McCarty, a project coordinator for the alliance.

The grant is attempting to address the city’s current lack of programming, housing units and outreach designed for unhoused 18-24 year-olds — the age range called “youth” by HUD.  Instead of using strict guidelines — the norm for federal grants — the HUD effort is designed to rely on the expertise of young adults and other stakeholders in the individual communities that receive the funds. 

“This is a new opportunity for our community,” McCarty said. “We’ll be able to more effectively zoom in on the issue of youth homelessness.”

Currently, Memphis has about 17 youth-specific temporary housing units and a complete lack of youth-specific emergency shelters and permanent supportive housing, according to the application. The $3.7 million will be spent both formulating and implementing a plan to address these shortcomings.

According to the National Network for Youth, young adults often end up experiencing homelessness after aging out of foster care at the age of 18 or because of family conflict — frequently related to a youth’s gender identity — which McCarty said is definitely the case in Memphis.

McCarty said the alliance doesn’t fully know how many youths are experiencing homelessness in Memphis. The best number it has, she said, is 304, which is how many youths received some sort of local homeless services in 2020. Of these, 93% identified themselves as Black and 76% identified as female.

“The community’s shortage of youth-specific resources disproportionately harms Black/African American youth,” the application said. “Such findings on racial disparities have further reinforced our community’s efforts to expand outreach and youth-specific housing options.”

In February, McCarty’s organization recruited the seven young Memphians — some of whom have experienced homelessness or the foster care system themselves — to serve on its Youth Action Board. For the next six months, the alliance will be working with the youth board, other community stakeholders and HUD to plan out how it will spend the grant, McCarty said. 

After a plan is formulated, the alliance will accept applications from other organizations who would provide the actual housing or support services. 

Jacob Steimer is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at Jacob.Steimer@mlk50.com


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